ROME – LaGrange City Council hasn’t gone out of town for its annual retreat in several years, but used the opportunity earlier this week to learn from cities like Rome and Madison about what their governments have done that might work here.
“The city of Madison has 4,000 residents and it pulls down $40 million a year in tourism revenue without all the crown jewels LaGrange has,” said Councilman Bobby Traylor.
“We have the symphony, the arts, the college, the antiquities center. We ought to be able to do wonders,” he said.
Council met with the planner from Madison and assistant city manager and downtown director for the city of Rome during their retreat Monday and Tuesday. City Manager Tom Hall said the city has wanted to hear from both cities about initiatives and public-private partnerships that have been used, particularly to revitalize their downtowns.
“It’s a question that’s been asked around the state of what role do cities play in helping private investment,” Hall said.
The city of Rome has systematically acquired vacant properties around town to rehabilitate or to make part of a community-wide trail system. Two rivers run through the city.
“I was thoroughly impressed,” Councilwoman Norma Tucker said. “The beauty of the outdoor spaces and the connectivity of the area encourages you to get out there and enjoy.”
Madison’s downtown has a “classic historical look” with active design review panels, Hall said.
LaGrange has used public-private partnerships to construct the downtown movie theater with Carmike cinemas and build the parking deck on Broome Street with the Callaway Foundation. The city would like to explore more partnerships as it goes forward – plans have been in the works for several years to build a hotel downtown and the city has bought the former Mansour’s department store in the hopes of attracting private investment.
Rome has a successful downtown hotel and a conference center, called the Forum, that was built with special-purpose, local-option sales tax.
“I would love to see us get a hotel downtown,” said Councilman Willie Edmondson. “We need major stores and restaurants downtown. We need more shopping here so that people aren’t going to Auburn (Ala.) or Newnan.”
“We have some great things happening in LaGrange, but it was beneficial to compare notes with Rome and to learn from some of their past successes and mistakes,” said Councilman Jim Thornton. “The similarity between LaGrange and Rome enabled us to understand the challenges and the opportunities that we have in LaGrange.”
Councilman Nick Woodson said he was impressed with the regulations the planners had come up with – and the fact the city was aggressive about sticking to the rules.
Mayor Jeff Lukken said officials from Rome and Madison want to come to LaGrange to see what’s been done here.
“Both Madison and Rome have demonstrated great courage, vision and planning as they revitalized their downtowns into exciting, vibrant city centers,” he said.